As community playground build begins, volunteers honor young girl for donation

Four-year-old saved up allowance for a year to help rebuild Project Playground

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that officials were hoping for 100 volunteers per day. That should have stated 100 volunteers per shift, which is 300 volunteers per day.


Volunteers arrived at Project Playground on Wednesday for the first day of the community rebuild, wielding saws, hammers, tape measures and electric sanders.

The guest of honor, though, held a small handful of napkins.

Four-year-old Lilah Gaguine saved her allowance for a year to donate it to help rebuild the beloved playground that burned down in April 2017. Though her $17.35 donation might not have paid for a full new swingset or slide, volunteers on the scene Wednesday were elated she wanted to help with the community project.

Linda Sylvester, a member of the Project Playground steering committee, made an announcement during Wednesday’s lunch break to honor Lilah.

“If this is what the future’s going to be,” Sylvester said to the group, “I don’t think we have any problems.”

Like so many Juneau children, Lilah was devastated when the playground burned down, and told her mother Becca that she wanted to help with the rebuild.

Obviously, a small child wouldn’t be allowed to actually help with the construction, Becca knew, but there was one way for her daughter to help. Each week, Lilah gets four quarters in allowance and has three options of what to do with it: save it, share it or spend it. She has three small cardboard boxes that serve as banks for these three options.

Most weeks, Lilah puts one quarter into each box, and then chooses what to do with the fourth quarter. Almost every week since last spring, Becca said, Lilah put that fourth quarter into her “share” box to eventually donate to the playground. Any money that Lilah found on the ground or around the house would also go into that box, Becca said, leading to the $17.35 total.

Lilah, who turns five at the end of August, put plans to buy toys or other items mostly on hold as she saved up.

“There were times when I was like, ‘You know it’s going to take a really long time to save up for that toy,” Becca said, “And then I was like, ‘What am I doing? Her go-to is to share, so I shouldn’t try to talk her out of it.’”

Lilah and Becca showed up just before noon Wednesday, with Lilah wearing her oversized blue Project Playground volunteer shirt and gray boots with flowers on them. Lilah was a little overwhelmed by the number of people there, and spent most of her time standing behind her mother, but she still helped hand out napkins as the volunteers took their lunch break.

In a brief interview, Lilah said she was excited to see that the swings were up already and can’t wait to see the Ice Palace completed.

In need of volunteers

As of noon Wednesday, Sylvester said just 52 volunteers had shown up. She was hoping there would be 100 volunteers each of the three shifts a day, which is 300 needed volunteers a day.

The community portion of the build goes from Wednesday to Sunday, she said, and the hope is to have the playground almost entirely completed by the end of the day Sunday. The park won’t open until mid-September she said.

Sylvester said they’re hoping to keep regular hours of about 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and that anyone interested in helping out can just come to the playground during that window, ready to work. The official way to sign up for shifts by going to, scrolling down and clicking the link that says “Volunteer to Help Rebuild Project Playground.”

People can then choose from numerous roles, from helping in the tool shed to running the snack area to running the first aid station. There are two options for those looking to actually work on building the equipment: skilled labor for those who are adept with power tools, or unskilled labor for those who are not so good with power tools.

Children as young as 10 years old can be on scene, but those between 10 and 13 must be within arm’s reach of their parent or guardian and cannot use power tools. Volunteers between ages 14 and 17 may work independently but can’t use power tools.

People started showing up before 7 a.m. Wednesday, and work continued into the evening. Those on hand ranged from gray-haired volunteers to teenagers. Most of the teens on hand were there through the Zach Gordon Youth Center’s Youth Employment in Parks program. Program coordinator Allen Truitt said the program aims to connect teenagers with their first jobs and teach them skills that will lead to future employment.



• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.




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